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The Pitt-Penn State Rivalry

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You know it must be the off season in college football when some moron suggests we should renew the Pitt-Penn State rivalry. This year it's state senator John N. Wozniak.

John N. Wozniak, a Democrat, said he had conversations Tuesday with Pitt chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg and Scott Paterno, son of Penn State coach Joe Paterno, who both expressed interest in renewing the rivalry.

Wozniak claimed "dual allegiances" as a Pitt graduate and father of a Penn State student in a letter to Penn State president Graham Spanier. Wozniak called resuming the Pitt-Penn State rivalry a "popular proposal among fans."
"I believe the time is right to bring back the healthy and historical rivalry of these fine Pennsylvania institutions," Wozniak said in a statement. "The economic gains, not only for State College and Pittsburgh, but for the entire Commonwealth, would be tremendous."

Dave Wannstedt agrees.

"I am on record saying I am in favor of us getting back to playing each other," Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said yesterday. "I have no clue how much influence the political world has on us playing football games. Will it happen someday? I'm very confident. When and how, who knows?"

I don't want to get into why the series was broken off. All that will do is bring the Pitt trolls out of the woodwork. Let's just say Penn State fans believe Paterno broke off the series because Pitt made PSU fans buy a package of tickets to see the games in Pittsburgh and Pitt fans believe the series was broken off because Joe Paterno holds a grudge for Pitt not going along with his failed Eastern Conference and leave it at that.

What's important now is that the two teams have not played since 2000 and there is a large portion of the fan base that supports renewing the series. Personally, I include myself in that. As a fan I would like to see the rivalry renewed for the entertainment value. The problem is Penn State has very little to gain by playing Pitt at this point. Penn State sells out a 105,000 seat stadium every weekend. Pitt struggles to fill their 64,000 seat Heinz Field. In fact, their average attendance usually comes in around 40,000 fans per game. Splitting revenue under a one-for-one series would be a loss for Penn State. If the state tries to force the series again you might as well just write Pitt a check and be done with it. Schedule another game and pay the opponent the usual $200,000. You would probably come out ahead that way.

The fact is that Pitt is not on the same level as Penn State anymore. When Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College left the Big East they took the conference credibility with them. Even with a depleted Big East they only managed to go 6-6 this year and didn't go to a bowl game. Penn State is on a level where they look for opponents that have large fan bases that travel and support their team. Those are the games that get attention in the BCS race. They get the 8 PM start on ABC. Pitt-Penn State is not such a game. If Pitt came to Penn State it would most likely be a noon start on ESPNU. This is not the type of game Penn State needs when you are competing for the BCS.

The only circumstance I can see the rivalry being renewed is if Pitt humbled themselves to play a 2-for-1 series. Pitt fans will cry and scream that they should never lower themselves to that, but the fact is that's how the series was played for decades in Pitt's favor. Pitt and Penn State have played 96 times in their storied history. Over two thirds of the time the game has been played in Pittsburgh. From 1903 to 1938 the two teams played 33 consecutive games in Pittsburgh. Between 1940 and 1970 the two teams played in State College only five times while playing at Pitt 25 times. It doesn't seem that Pitt was very interested in sharing the wealth back then. Now the shoe is on the other foot. So while Pitt fans can claim that Paterno and Penn State and ducking them, the fact of the matter is it's all about money.